Resumes & Cover Letters

Write a great resume even if you’ve never had a job

Written by Kate Lopaze

Looking for a job can feel like a catch-22: to get a job I need experience, but to get experience I need a job. And if you’re a student with no work experience or otherwise entering the workforce for the first time, how do you deal with that on a resume? You can’t just hand in a blank sheet with your name and address at the top. But don’t panic—you’ve got more than you think you do.

Find experience in other places.

You don’t have much full-time work experience yet, but you likely have experience in other areas. Have you volunteered? Are you a member of any clubs? Do you have any unpaid internships or other experience that’s close, but not quite, paid working experience? Any part-time jobs?

Those may not be direct lines to the job for which you’re applying now, but you can talk about the skills and experiences you’ve had that have prepared you. Even hobbies may have a place here, as long as they’re relevant to the job you want—and, more importantly, appropriate. (Think “playing the violin” and not “crushing it on Xbox Live.”)

For example: if you babysit on weekends, that shows responsibility. If you volunteer at the senior center sometimes, play up responsibilities and the skills you’ve learned and used there (like people skills or patient care skills). If you get to use your ninja math and organization skills as the treasurer of a club, definitely include that on your resume.

Use academic experience.

If you’re just starting out, whoever’s reading your resume likely understands that you’re light on experience. Academic courses and experience can come in handy here, especially if you’ve taken classes or become certified in the field where you’re trying to get a job. Don’t list every class you’ve ever taken, but a targeted list of relevant academic experience can help fill out your resume.

Play up your skills.

Here’s where you lean on personal qualities instead of personal experience. Bilingual? List it. Can do a vlookup like nobody’s business? That’s Excel expertise—list it.

And if you’re feeling light on skills as well as experience, don’t sweat it. Skills are something you can build with time and effort, not just prior experience. You don’t need work experience to take a class on coding or public speaking. And those are skills that look great on a resume—ones you can highlight.

Build your brand.

It can be hard to develop a professional brand if you don’t yet have a job, but there are some things within your control here. If you’re interested in getting a job in graphic design, build a site where you can showcase your work. If you’re interested in social media, build up your presence and focus your energies on developing a professional network in the field in which you want to work.

Bottom line: you have more experience than you think you do. When you’re building a resume without the luxury of having work experience, look at all aspects of your life for skills and bullet points that you can use to show you’re an awesome entry-level candidate.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.